Visiting Paris is a lot more enticing now that a new airline is offering discounted all-business-class service from Washington Dulles to the City of Light featuring cuisine by famed Citronelle chef Michel Richard.
By Kevin Chaffee
When OpenSkies launched its reduced fare luxury air service to Paris in May, I was initially skeptical. It had only been four years since MAXjet shut down its cut-rate business class service from Dulles to London/Stansted after continual problems with canceled flights. (If only one of its small fleet of 767s broke down, disgruntled passengers ended up getting bumped into standby coach seats on competing carriers.)
There are no such problems when you fly OpenSkies, a British Airways subsidiary with a bigger fleet of newer and more luxurious Boeing 757 aircraft (reconfigured to seat only 84 passengers in two cabins). Passengers who can’t be reasonably accommodated get put in Club World on BA.
Cost and Seating Options: OpenSkies offers five weekly flights from Washington Dulles to Paris/Orly
(much closer to the action than Charles De Gaulle Airport) at fares ranging from $825 to $2,925 for roomy “Biz Seats” that recline 140 degrees. Those preferring to be fully recumbent can upgrade to the intimate 12-seat “Biz Bed” cabin from $1,219 to $4,100. (All prices are based on round-trip purchase.) Most fares are cheaper and less restrictive than the competition. There are no advance purchase requirements for the lowest fares or a Saturday night minimum stay and the 14-day advance purchase price is often less than premium economy on other airlines.
Boarding a Breeze: With no line at OpenSkies’ check-in desk and priority security screening at Dulles, I was soon relaxing in British Air’s comfortable lounge, enjoying smoked salmon canapés and a glass of Chablis as I awaited my 5:45 p.m. flight. There was no pre-boarding seated meal service (reserved only for BA passengers departing later that night) but I wasn’t about to whimper given the promise of a Michel Richard-catered meal aloft. After a five-minute walk to the gate, I’m onboard immediately with a flash of my passport and boarding card.
Cosseted Comfort: Only five of the 12 primo “Biz Beds” were booked to Paris, making the cabin experience something Donald Trump might expect aboard his private jet. Separated by collapsible fabric fans that permit passenger privacy (if preferred), the bed configuration is an integral part of the comfort and tranquility reflected in the cabin’s sleek interior and solicitous service from a bi-lingual crew. Individual entertainment modules offer a selection of 150 or more films, TV, and music options. There is never a line for the two spotless restrooms.
Gourmet Fare: The much-touted Michel Richard meal service was quick and uncomplicated: one appetizer (amuse-bouche-sized bites of an excellent “Chesapeake Crab Coleslaw”) and a choice of three main courses: fried chicken with a mustard remoulade, grilled salmon with eggplant (my choice); or duck breast and succotash in cinnamon sauce. No plastic was ever sighted. Real china, glassware, and stainless steel utensils were on the tray plus individual salt and pepper mills (an exquisite touch). The respectable wine list included Billecart Salmon Champagne, Pouilly-Fuissé, and Châteauneuf du Pape.
Blessed Rest: Sleep is the ne plus ultra of airborne comfort and the fully reclining bed did not disappoint. Blissfully wrapped in a fluffy, high-thread count cotton duvet, I settled in for repose that was only interrupted when a continental breakfast (with excellent croissants) was served an hour before landing.
Back in Biz Bed: Passengers traveling on the noon Orly-Dulles flight are less likely to be sleepy, which makes returning in the “Biz Bed” cabin a logical money-saving choice. The roomy seats recline 140 degrees and the Michel Richard cuisine is the same as up front. Disembarkation at Dulles is completed within ten minutes and checked luggage had already been unloaded by the time I arrived at the claims area after passport control.